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Steady as He Goes

Steady as He Goes

Articles - Directing

When it’s released, the low-budget Seattle feature House of the Rising, currently in post production, will break
new ground by being the first full-length feature film shot entirely
on steadicam in one continuous take. But were it not for the big
L.A. earthquake, which prompted the Hollywood production company
that was originally backing the project with a million dollar deal
to pull the plug, the picture would have been much different, and
steadicam operator Brad Nelson might still be waiting for that once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity. Nelson,who trained under steadicam inventor Garrett
Brown (Philadelphia) and Ted Churchill (Risky Busines)
at the International Film and Television Workshops in Rockport,
Maine, very nearly missed his film calling entirely to pursue a
career as an electrician. "When I got out of high school I
wanted to go into the movie business but my Dad kind of talked me
out of it," he explains. "So I became an electrician,
but after about six years I started wondering why. It wasn’t what
I wanted to do with my life. So I took the money I had saved, bought
a $25,000 Model 2 camera, and dove right in." His first break
came during his first class with Ted Churchill, when the Rockport
program offered him a position as technical director. For the young
cameraman this meant free education and the opportunity to work
with some of the most respected directors and DPs in the country.
On his first gig he ran into Lon Magdich, a high school acquaintance
who would bring him onto the House of the Rising project
some 10 years later. "Lon had just gotten a job in Bellevue,
where I started work, and right away we hit it off. By the time
he left that company five years later, we were already doing a lot
of miscellaneous projects together, hiring each other whenever possible
for both freebies and paying jobs. So when (writer/ director) Tim
Hines approached him with the steadicam concept for House of
the Rising
, he gave me a call."

The decision by Hines and the production staff
to move headlong into principal photography after all their funding
sources had fallen through demanded a steeling of the nerves and a
concentrated reworking of script, cast and crew. The steadicam idea
was born out of necessity. Tracks, dollies and grips required time
and money, and there was little left of either.

"I got involved in this project for the simple
fact that it was going to be a continuous take for an entire movie,"
Nelson says. "I’ve shot a number of small features, but never
the whole thing start -to-finish. Not only did I get to shoot the
whole movie this time, but I was doing takes that were five to seven
minutes long. This made it extremely challenging because I had to
memorize a lot more dialogue and have a lot more cues to deal with.
The other factor was working together with the audio guys and ACs
so that we wouldn’t be colliding every 30 seconds. At one point they
literally had to pass me on the stairs without being seen so we could
smoothly capture the action in the next room."

There were other groundbreaking shots Nelson helped
orchestrate that should make for fascinating viewing when House
of the Rising
hits the theatres. Using his model 3-A camera outfit,
the most advanced currently available, Nelson at one point does a
360 degree clockwise move similar to one he did on a project for NASA
to simulate weightlessness in a space station. Another had him coming
into a room filming an actor who leaps into a crowd of revelers and
is passed around in a sea of arms. In order to keep the lights out
of the shot and avoid having his POV blocked by hands and bodies,
he arranged to step onto a small platform that grips raised up and
carried forward, allowing him to follow the actor’s movement from
above.

"For the most part I’m pleased with how it’s
going to look. We had an incredibly low shooting ratio – less than
2:1 – and there’s a few takes that I’d like to have had the chance
to shoot again, but all-in-all I’m very pleased." MM

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